Jewish World Review Dec. 5, 2002 / 30 Kislev, 5763

Marty Nemko

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Consumer Reports

Men as Beasts of Burden | Dan is an actor, but can't make a living at it. So he works as a mock patient in a medical school.

That job doesn't pay much, so at night, Dan, 54, moonlights as a waiter at a large restaurant. He says, "It's almost mile from the kitchen to the farthest table, so when I get home at one in the morning, I'm exhausted. But I'm still so wired, I need a couple of glasses of wine to get to sleep. If I'm lucky, I get five hours of sleep before I have to get up again."

Dan is married. His wife, Denise, 53, says she's a musician. But during their years together, her average income is just $800 a year. When Dan begs Denise to get a job that pays, she objects, saying," But I love being a musician. I'm trying to make a living at it." Dan shrugs his shoulders and lets it go. "I hate conflict," he says. Meanwhile, Dan continues to drag himself through life like an ox yoked to a plow, a beast of burden. "I don't know how long I can keep this up."

Statistically, he's right. There are eight widows for every widower. Of course, some of this caused by genetics, but working two jobs until one in the morning and then drinking yourself to sleep can't be healthy.

I have a number of clients like Dan. Like him, these men accept their plight of having to work, work, work at jobs they don't like, without really questioning it. Men have been preprogrammed to be the hunter, the provider, to keep their nose to the grindstone, no matter what.

Men, this is the feminist era. You have the right to ask your wife or domestic partner to share life's financial burden. Women can no longer legitimately claim not to have earning potential. Most companies and nonprofits make real efforts to ensure that women have opportunities in the workplace. Indeed, I've found that today, women are having an easier time than men in getting hired and promoted.

So, mister, if you feel like a beast of burden, you have the right to insist that your partner get a job that will help with the bills.

Of course, you may encounter resistance, for example:

  • "I'm not trained to do anything." Fact is, many people, even some with graduate degrees, are not trained to do much in the workplace. Yet, with effort, they can usually get jobs, and after some on-the-job training and dues paying, earn a good living. Even low-skill positions can generate a solid income. I know a waiter that earns $100,000 a year.

  • "It's better for the kids if I stay home." The research simply does not support that contention. Often, the "It's better for the kids" excuse hides the real reason for not wanting a paying job: the woman would rather stay home so she can take that class, decorate, have lunch with friends, and yes, be with her kids. Those are usually insufficient justifications for forcing her husband to be a beast of burden.

Unfortunately, Dan continues to fall for Denise's excuse: "I love being a musician. I'm trying to make a living at it." With Dan having to continue holding down two jobs and with that 8:1 ratio of widows to widowers, I hope he will live to see her successful.

(Names and minor details have been changed to protect my client's anonymity.)

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JWR contributor Dr. Marty Nemko is a career and education counselor in Oakland, California and hosts "Work With Marty Nemko," Sundays 11 to noon on KALW, 91.7FM. He is co-author of Cool Careers for Dummies. Comment by clicking here.


11/21/02: Beware of going back to school

© 2002, Dr. Marty Nemko